Five Russians lifted the second ever international VALORANT trophy in Berlin two months ago. Now, at the most important event of the year, VALORANT Champions, Gambit Esports are back in Germany to try and defend that title.
“Right now we’re just the challengers,” Gambit’s in-game leader Igor “Redgar” Vlasov said. “We’re not winners until we prove ourselves and win the trophy.”
Almost every single player attending Champions has expressed their desire to go up against Gambit and Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin. Everyone wants a shot at the best team in the world, but the Commonwealth of Independent States scrim demons aren’t afraid. Quite the contrary, in fact. They are fully prepared and ready to face every opponent that stands in their way.
“It feels nice that every team wants to play against us, and the fact that every team will prepare really hard against us, I like that and we are ready for them,” said Timofey “Chronicle” Khromov. “We are very good with adapting to our opponents right now, it’s going to be very hard for teams to outplay us.”
Gambit will begin the tournament with a best-of-three match against Team Secret. Both teams are in Group C, alongside Crazy Raccoon and Team Vikings, for the first leg of the tournament.
“Our opponents in Berlin tried to counter-strat us but we knew how to deal with it so this time around I think there will be even more mind games,” Redgar said. “I don’t have the mindset of we have already won the tournament, I see us as challengers again like it was before Masters 3.”
On the Grind
Gambit have every right to be confident but some have already written them off as a result of their underwhelming performance at Red Bull Home Ground. Many expected them to win that tournament but both Chronicle and Redgar acknowledged that they weren’t in the best shape at the time.
Their star player Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin had COVID-19 in late October, which meant they weren’t able to practice as much as they wanted. It took them a while to get back in the swing of things after an intense tournament at Masters 3.
“We started to improve on individual skills too after the Red Bull tournament because we sucked really hard,” Chronicle said. “Throughout that month we were testing stuff and before Red Bull we weren’t in very good shape to win it.”
Their underwhelming performance at Red Bull Home Ground lit a fire under the Masters 3 winners. They flew to Moscow for bootcamp on Nov. 8 and began an intense training regime to improve and get their mojo back. The Gambit team had seven practice sessions a day alongside hours of team and individual VOD reviews, which meant they were often working more than 10-12 hours a day.
They adjusted their training schedule and played at night to mimic the late start time of official matches at Champions. Not only that, each individual player would spend their spare time aim training or working on themselves. Chronicle even took on a new hobby to help him become more well-rounded.
“I actually started playing chess,” he said. “It’s quite a strange thing but I think it helps me with understanding what’s happening on the map and understanding situations better. I play versus bots a lot and I’ve reached 2000 elo bots. My current elo is around 1020 but I still need to improve a lot more.”
Every team, including ones that have never made an appearance on the international stage, have been training tirelessly ahead of Champions. Bootcamps and 12 hour work days are common, but every other team’s goal includes taking Gambit out. Redgar thinks they’ve trained enough to handle that challenge.
“A lot of teams have improved and they are constantly improving but so are we,” he said. “You can play 10-12 hours a day but if you don’t know where you are weak you cannot improve fast. We know what we need to work on and we have been working really hard to fix those, the key is to know how to get better and work hard to achieve it.”
Redgar is confident that his team has been training to work on the things Gambit need to improve on most.
“Personally, I know my playstyle right now is too aggressive sometimes so I have been working on changing my playstyle,” he said. “[I’ve been] learning lots of different playstyles so we become completely unreadable.”
EMEA is one of the strongest regions in VALORANT
Gambit are one of four EMEA teams competing at Champions, but analysts don’t have as much faith in others going into this tournament. Although, Chronicle believes the EMEA teams will cause a bigger problem for them than other regions.
“The other EMEA teams are very strong right now, all of them are,” Chronicle said. “I don’t know if they are stronger than us but every team can beat each other, the competition from our teams is really high. I think EMEA teams will be more challenging for us because they already know how we play, they know everything about us so they can prepare really well. Back at Masters Berlin we practiced against almost all of the teams that were there and right now we are practicing a lot against EMEA teams.”
There’s been a long debate on how much we should read into pre-tournament scrimbux, while Redgar doesn’t believe it’s reliable, he also acknowledges the strengths of the EMEA teams.
“Scrims [results are] never the true result of what teams can show in official games but I feel like the EMEA teams will be pretty strong,” Redgar said. “For me, when we played against Team Liquid, they had really great aim and individual skills. If they can keep that up for Champions they will be amazing.”
He added that Acend play scrimmages like they’re playing VALORANT for fun. They use all sorts of strategies, making it hard to predict what they’ll do in official tournaments.
“You have to expect every scenario with this team,” he said.
A message to everyone at Champions from Gambit
Again, it’s no secret that every team wants to face the Masters 3 winners and the Gambit boys have some messages for their future opponents at Champions. The ever-wholesome Redgar hopes he gets to play everyone at their best.
“I want to say to them that if we face each other, I wish we’ll play in our best conditions and show great VALORANT,” he said. “I really like games where both teams are playing their best, it makes you amazing like ‘wow what a great fight!’ If you lose you’d feel sad but if you win it makes you feel happier because it was a tough game and both teams gave their best.”
Gambit will be kicking off their Champions journey with a best-of-three group stage match against Team Secret. Only time will tell if their hard work and mind games will pay off. Chronicle had another message for all the teams they’ll meet at the last VALORANT tournament of 2021.
“Good luck,” he said, “but this luck won’t help you.”
Correction (11/29): An earlier version of this story left was missing the word “bots” in one quote and incorrectly stated that Gambit would play Crazy Raccoon and Team Vikings after their opening match against Team Secret as if the group stage was a round robin. The story has been updated to reflect the complete quote and the proper GSL group stage format.